Country Party (Britain)

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In Britain in the era 1680-1740, especially in the days of Robert Walpole (1720s to 1740s), the Country Party was a coalition of Tories and disaffected Whigs. It was a movement rather than an organized party and had no formal structure or leaders. It claimed to be a nonpartisan force fighting for the nation’s interest—the whole “Country”—against the self-interested actions of the Court Party, that is the politicians in power in London. Country men believed the Court party was corrupting Britain by using patronage to buy support and was threatening English and Scottish liberties and the proper balance of authority by shifting power from Parliament to the prime minister. It sought to constrain the Court by opposing standing armies, calling for annual elections to Parliament (instead of the seven-year term in effect), and wanted to fix power in the hands of the landed gentry rather than the royal officials, urban merchants or bankers. It opposed any practices it saw as corruption.

The Country party attracted a number of influential writers (such as Jonathan Swift, Samuel Johnson, and Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun) and political theorists. The ideology of the party faded away in England but became a powerful force in the American colonies, where its tracts strongly motivated the Patriots to oppose what the Country Party had exposed as British tyranny and to develop a powerful political philosophy of Republicanism in the United States.

Country persuasion[edit]

Hoppit (2000) argues that around 1700 instead of a Country "party" England had a Country persuasion. The main points of agreement were demands that the government should be frugal and efficient, opposition to high taxes, a concern for personal liberty, a quest for more frequent elections, a faith that the local militia would substitute for a dangerous standing army, and a desire for such moral reforms as temperance in an age of drunkenness, and less Sabbath breaking. The Country leaders stressed the civic duty of the upper class to engage in politics to strengthen the national interest.[1]

Bolingbroke[edit]

Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke was especially influential in stating the need and outlining the machinery of a systematic parliamentary opposition. Such an opposition he called a "country party" which he opposed to the court party. Country parties had been formed before, for instance after the king's speech to Parliament in November 1685, but Bolingbroke was the first to state the need for a continual opposition to the government. To his mind the spirit of liberty was threatened by the court party's lust for power.[2]

Liberty could only be safeguarded by an opposition party that used "constitutional methods and a legal course of opposition to the excesses of legal and ministerial power…".[3] He instructed the opposition party to "Wrest the power of government, if you can, out of the hands that employed it weakly and wickedly"[4] This work could be done only by a homogeneous party "…because such a party alone will submit to a drudgery of this kind".[5] It did not suffice to be eager to speak, keen to act. "They who affect to head an opposition ,…, must be equal, at least, to those whom they oppose…"[6] The opposition had to be of a permanent nature to make sure that it would be looked at as a part of daily politics. It had to contrast, on every occasion, the government[7] He considered a party that systematically opposed the government to be more appealing than a party that occasionally opposed the government.This opposition had to prepare itself to control government.[8]

Americans[edit]

The writings of the Country Party were eagerly devoured by some Americans, who came to fear the corruption of the British Court as the greatest threat to American liberties. They formed American Patriot cause in the Thirteen Colonies and used the Country Party ideas to help form Republicanism in the United States.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Julian Hoppit, A Land of Liberty?: England 1689-1727 (2000) p. 159
  2. ^ Caroline Robbins, "'Discordant Parties": A Study of the Acceptance of Party by Englishmen,'" Political Science Quarterly Vol. 73, No. 4 (Dec., 1958), pp. 505-529 in JSTOR
  3. ^ Bolingbroke, On the Idea of a Patriot King p. 117
  4. ^ Bolingbroke, On the Spirit of Patriotism p. 42
  5. ^ Bolingbroke, On the idea of a Patriot King p. 170
  6. ^ Bolingbroke, On the Spirit of Patriotism p. 58
  7. ^ Bolingbroke, On the Spirit of Patriotism p. 61
  8. ^ Bolingbroke, On the Spirit of Patriotism pp. 61-3

Further reading[edit]

  • Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1967). ISBN 0-674-44301-2
  • Colbourn, Trevor. The Lamp of Experience: Whig History and the Intellectual Origins of the American Revolution (1965) online version
  • Hutson, James H. "Country, Court, and Constitution: Antifederalism and the Historians," William and Mary Quarterly Vol. 38, No. 3 (Jul., 1981), pp. 337–368 in JSTOR
  • Jones, J.R. Country and court: England, 1658-1714 (Arnold, 1978) ISBN 0-7131-6103-5
  • Kramnick, Isaac. Republicanism and Bourgeois Radicalism: Political Ideology in Late Eighteenth-Century England and America (1990)
  • Kramnick, Isaac. Bolingbroke and His Circle: The Politics of Nostalgia in the Age of Walpole (1992)
  • Murrin, John M. "The Great Inversion, or Court versus Country: A Comparison of the Revolution Settlements in England (1688-721) and America (1776-1816)," in J.G.A. Pocock, ed., Three British Revolutions: 1641, 1688, 1776 (Princeton UP 1980), 368-455
  • Robbins, Caroline. The Eighteenth-Century Commonwealthman: Studies in the Transmission, Development, and Circumstance of English Liberal Thought from the Restoration of Charles II until the War with the Thirteen Colonies (1959, 2004). table of contents online
  • Ward, Lee, The Politics of Liberty in England and Revolutionary America (Cambridge University Press, 2004)
  • Zagorin, Peter. "The Court and the Country: A Note on Political Terminology in the Earlier Seventeenth Century," English Historical Review, Vol. 77, No. 303, Apr., 1962 pp 306+ in JSTOR